On February 9, 1997, former Academy Chancellor John Hollander gave a master class for benefactors of the Academy of American Poets. The class took place at the New York City home of then Academy Chairman Lyn Chase and her husband, Ned.
american poets essays
If you want to crush a person, strike that person first in the mouth. The U.S. government knew this when, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it rounded up native children and transported them to boarding schools across the country. One of the most important steps of the government’s systematic program of “civilization” and assimilation began: Native children were not allowed to speak their languages. When they returned home to tribal lands (and many did not return home), they no longer spoke their heritage languages.
When Barbara Guest passed away in the winter of 2006, America lost one of its most fiercely independent and original artists. She had been writing poetry for sixty years. One might call her commitment to the art "heroic" but her primary task was rather, in her words, "to invoke the unseen, to unmask it." Hers is a poetry of revelation and of mystery. When Guest arrived on the scene in the mid-1950s, her work was characterized by an advanced lyricism that must have seemed already full-blown to her contemporaries.
"American poetry has been part of a culture in conflict. . . . We are a people tending toward democracy at the level of hope; at another level, the economy of the nation, the empire of business within the republic, both include in their basic premise the idea of perpetual warfare." — Muriel Rukeyser: The Life of Poetry (1949)
An interview with Robert Hass on the office of the poet laureate, poetry, and its role in American culture. This article originally appeared in American Poet, the biannual journal of the Academy of American Poets. American Poet: Many of us know you as a translator as well as a poet. I wonder if you could begin by talking about that.
Eileen Myles moved from Boston to New York City to become a poet in 1974. Since then, she has established herself as an important and quintessentially New York voice in the landscape of contemporary American poetry—from her involvement with the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, where she served as artistic director from 1984 to 1986; to her championing small presses and mentoring younger poets; to her presence as an active participant in queer culture. Myles has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, among other honors.
Jordan Davis's poems call up many arenas for me. He was editor of The Poetry Project Newsletter several years ago, and indeed there is a whiff of the downtown/Tulsa/beats/New York School tradition for which The Poetry Project has been a haven. But there are also strains of Marcel Janco, Paul Reverdy, and Matsuo Basho; of W. H.
I've always been impressed by Joshua Weiner's formal intelligence and his sure knowledge of how to make a poem. He's learned as much from Mina Loy, Robert Duncan, and Tom McGrath as he has from Thom Gunn, Thomas Hardy, and George Herbert. His poems are open to many different kinds of aesthetic approaches, including those of jazz and the blues.
No one I know writes like Mónica de la Torre. Many use some of the same techniques, the much-loved and now over-famous Ashberian non sequitur, for example, but even so she has a subtle and disarming way of tying her dissimilars together. In her poems, we encounter odd characters who meet in David Lynch-like accidental fashion. Small bizarre incidents coalesce into a sign of our own mirrored, uncertain world. The very camera which would explicate the internal state of the subject, has no film in it.
A look back at John Berryman’s iconic Dream Songs on the occasion of the poet’s centennial.
“Stanza XVI,” by Gertrude Stein, is arguably one of the most clunky passages ever written—a seemingly impossible text. It is part of a much longer discursive serial poem, Stanzas in Meditation, that Stein wrote during her “middle period," between 1929 and 1933. Considered one of the most difficult texts of her oeuvre, the whole of the mammoth book is a heroic foray into uncharted poetic territory whose only subject matter is the act of writing itself.
Award-winning poet, editor, translator, and human rights advocate Carolyn Forché presents the Blaney lecture "Not Persuasion, But Transport: The Poetry of Witness" on October 25, 2013, at Poets Forum in New York City. Forché's lecture, which appears below, also appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.
Irony certainly isn’t the first word that comes to mind when we think of the poems of Walt Whitman, whose vast, brilliant, and uneven body of work is more often characterized by terms like earnestness and sincerity, directness and plain speech.
On the evening of December 12, 2014, I attended an extraordinary gathering celebrating the life of painter Jane Freilicher at the Poetry Project in New York City, an event intended to mark her ninetieth birthday. She had planned to come and partake in the festivities, to watch old films of her unearthed from various archives, and be in the company of old friends like John Ashbery, Alex Katz, and so many others. But she died on December 9, just three days before the event.
Philip Levine is a member of the remarkable generation of American poets born in the 1920s, which began with Hayden Carruth, Marie Ponsot, and Richard Wilbur and includes James Merrill, Carolyn Kizer, W. S.
Reading Joseph Massey’s poems makes me remember some things Charles Olson said in “Projective Verse,” i.e. that a “poem, must be handled as a series of objects in a field in such a way that series of tensions (which they also are) are made to hold…”; and “I am dogmatic, that the head shows in the syllable.”; and “It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty." In outward appearance Massey’s small, tightly constructed, haiku-esque poems couldn’t be more different from Olson’s.
We asked our Chancellors what books they’d recommend reading. Seven Chancellors each chose two books of poems—a volume often revisited for continuous inspiration and another beloved book more readers should know about.
Tracy K. Smith synthesizes the riches of many discursive and poetic traditions without regard to doctrine and with great technical rigor. Her poems are mysterious but utterly lucid and write a history that is sub-rosa yet fully within her vision. They are deeply satisfying and necessarily inconclusive. And they are pristinely beautiful without ever being precious.
I would like to sketch out the noncareer of an American poet.